Saturday, December 7, 2013

Change Your Mind

Flowers in December
-along the desert trail-

A while back, an NPR radio broadcast featured interviews with mostly younger people who had either left the church or never chose to affiliate with a religious institution. They were asked why they had abandoned or rejected religion. 

I expected some of the answers: "religious people are hypocritical; you don't need religion to believe in God. " However, there was another type of answer that really surprised me: "I don't go to church because I could never meet the high standards expected of me."  

I think that many people (non-religious as well as religious) feel they are substandard in the eyes of "God" or below par when it comes to the expectations and demands of the religions institution. 

When I think about it, there does see to be a lot of "ifs" when it comes to religion: "IF you say your prayers and attend church (or synagogue or temple), IF you follow the commandments, church laws, and live a respectable moral life, IF you contribute your time and money to the work of the institution, THEN God will love and accept you, and you will be accepted as a full-fledged member of the institution.

So I am not all that surprised when people say that, when it comes to God and religion, they feel that somehow they don't "pass muster." 

So, some people choose to move away from the demands that religion places on them. Others stick with their religion, but they are always looking for ways to make themselves more worthy - cleaning themselves up to get a better grade. 

This weekend, many Christian churches will be turning to the biblical figure of John the Baptist and listening to his message as they prepare to celebrate Christmas in a few weeks. John the Baptist was a fiery prophet who lived in the desert, dressed in animal skins, and went around telling everyone to "repent" and get ready for the coming of Christ.

When he tells people to "repent," it sure does sounds like he is saying- you aren't worthy, you have to clean up your lives to make yourselves worthy for the coming of Christ. 

My guess is that on this weekend, this is exactly the message a lot of people will hear from their preachers:  "repent, turn away from sin IF you want God to come to you." 

The thing is I don't for a second believe that the call to "repent" is a call to become worthy. 

The word "repent" is a Greek word, "metanoia."  It means, "change your mind!" (actually it means, "Have a total change of mind; change your mind completely.)

In fact, the very first sermon Jesus, himself, ever gave began with the word "repent." He told people to "Repent and believe the GOOD NEWS!" 

In other words, "You may think you are unworthy; you may believe that you have to perform and meet high standards if you expect to be loved; you may believe that you aren't as good as the other guy; you  may have been told that only the rich, the famous, the elite and the morally upright have a place of dignity at the table of lifebut you got it all wrong," so, 

Change your mind!  Repent and believe the good news!

The good news is that you are already loved and you don't have to make yourself "worthy."  The good news is that everyone is accepted and everyone is acceptable, and there is nothing you can do to change that. All you can do is celebrate it. 

I sit in my garden at sunrise looking out onto the desert floor and towering mountains - flowers bloom on a cold December day. I almost hear the call of John the Baptist, the cry of the Christ echoing in those timeless mountains:

Change your mind! Repent and believe the good news!

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